I'm in love with my co-worker

We're both married with kids -- should I even mention how I feel?


Cary Tennis
November 23, 2005 5:13PM (UTC)

Dear Cary,

I'll get right to it: I'm in love with a female co-worker. We've been friends for a number of years, we're both married, both have children and neither of us has any intention of leaving our current spouses or lives for the other. In fact, she has no idea that I love her as much as I do.

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She is one of the most amazing, beautiful, intelligent people I've ever met. When I'm around her, I feel totally alive, completely engaged and incredibly connected to her. I've worked on sublimating all this into a warm and wonderful friendship, but it's becoming more and more of a strain not to just come out and tell her I love her.

If I were to do that, it wouldn't be that I'd want her to leave her husband for me. The very idea of that seems preposterous. I'm not entirely clear what I would want by telling her I love her, but I think I just need for her to know that I have these incredible feelings. I want her to know that I am her friend, but also that I truly love her as a woman.

Writing it down has made it all seem so tawdry and just kind of pathetic, but here I am sitting with these same feelings, about to burst with the intensity of it all. I just wonder what she would say, how it would affect our relationship and if it even makes sense at all to do it.

I can envision a scenario where she looks at me shocked and concerned before politely telling me that we shouldn't be friends anymore. Of course that would break my heart and I would regret having told her anything at all. I can also envision, though, an outcome where she looks at me and says something like, "You know, I love you too. We just can't do anything about that except be friends." I could definitely live with that and maybe the intensity of these feelings would lessen enough to be comfortable.

So, I guess mine is a two-part question. First, is it OK to remain friends with a married woman when you have these kinds of feelings for her, especially when I'm a married man? Second, does it make any sense to tell her, or should I just keep transmuting these feelings into an incredible friendship and hope for the best?

I should add that I love my wife very much and would never do anything to hurt her. I think there is some guilt on my conscience over the feelings I have for my friend, and this is not something I can talk with my wife about. I fear she would be terribly hurt, and rightly so. I just feel trapped by all this and sometimes wonder if I'm not just a bit crazy.

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In Love With One Too Many Women

Dear In Love With One Too Many,

I think it may be OK to remain friends with her as long as you can act responsibly. With a bit of tact, you can handle this in a way that preserves your friendship but also gives you an opportunity to explore the issues your feelings give rise to.

I do not think there is anyone alive who does not wonder occasionally how life might have turned out if one or two things had been different. So why not approach this topic with your friend by wondering out loud ... What if you had followed a different career path, or gone to a different company, for instance? How would life have turned out? What if you had never met your wife? Who would you have married? What would your ideal woman have been like? If it is not too bold, you might observe that your ideal woman might have been a lot like your co-worker. You might, in a playful mode, point out to her all the ways in which you and she are compatible. This could be taken more as a compliment than as an admission of love, and at the same time serve as an opening should there be feelings she wishes to discuss as well.

Having thus raised the topic, you might then ask her to consider the same question. Does she also wonder about alternative paths she might have taken? What if she had followed a different career path? What if she had never met her husband? Following this train of thought, still in a light and hypothetical way, you might then ask, What if you and she had met when you were younger, when neither of you was married -- what does she think would have happened? Does she think that you might have been more than friends? Has she ever met a man, since she has been married, that she felt attracted to? If so, what did she do?

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If raised with appropriate caution this can be an enjoyable thing to discuss. If she has had similar feelings, or even thoughts, she may welcome the opening. If not, she may not even realize what powerful feelings you are so delicately alluding to, and so you can avoid the pitfalls of confession.

By following this course of inquiry, you risk learning something that hurts you. She may, for instance, dismiss the idea that you and she could ever have been anything other than friends. If she does, at least you know not to pursue this line any further. It may never have occurred to her that things could be other than the way they are. You might then breathe a sigh of relief that you did not say more.

So proceed cautiously and listen carefully. Nothing can disrupt a friendship more than the sudden knowledge that one person has so little understanding of the other as to think that you could be anything other than friends. And if, after giving evidence that she has no such feelings, she asks you if you feel this way: Deny, deny, deny! For what would the point be of telling her how strong your feelings are, if they cannot be acted on? Better to let them be there and preserve the friendship.

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Finally, though it may be small consolation, remember the words of Jane Austen: "Friendship is certainly the finest balm for the pangs of disappointed love."

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